When it comes to judging wine, it’s easy to feel like a dunce. There are so many different wine competitions and levels of expertise it’s almost unimaginable. Hand me a beer and I’ll talk your ear off about effervescence, hops and bitterness. Hand me a wine bottle and I don’t even know where to begin. But I have to wonder…is that $16,000 bottle of Henri Jayer really that much better than 3-buck chuck at Trader Joe’s? Okay, it probably is. But what about a $200 Gaja? That’s harder to say. I’ve heard – from laymen and elitists alike – that once you get above about $100, the line in quality begins to blur. In the end, it’s all just wine. Maybe someday we at Through the Drinking Glass will be privileged enough to do the Henri Jayer/Gaja comparison, but for now we’ll review a bottle more in our price range: Gnarly Head Chardonnay.For those of you (and those of me) who aren’t sure what a Chardonnay is supposed to taste like, here is Gnarly Head’s (abbreviated) description:
Gnarly Head Chardonnay is fresh, vibrant and fruit forward – a Chardonnay for an adventurous spirit…our Chardonnay has bright, tropical fruit aromas and flavors of pineapple, citrus, pear and melon with a touch of vanilla on the finish.
We can see that it’s a white wine, and from the description and shape of the bottle, I’m guessing it’s supposed to be of the sweeter variety. And judging from this website I suddenly decided to trust, that bottle is called a Champagne shape. Which makes sense, since Chardonnay grapes are used for Champagne. Wow, we’re learning so much.
The smell of this wine was slight and fruity, but didn’t have the heady intensity you might associate with a Chardonnay. A large whiff in the glass as the wine was on its way to our mouths yielded little results. The taste, similarly, was clean and one-dimensional, and surprisingly dry. “You get a little bite up front, ” said one taster, “but not much to follow.” The cornucopia of flavors listed in Gnarly Head Chardonnay’s description neutralized each other into a one-note, generic fruitiness.Pairing Gnarly Head Chardonnay with food turned out to be a challenge. It wouldn’t, as the label suggests, pair well with a full meal of shrimp kabobs or Tex Mex, because the bold flavors of those foods would drown out it’s subtle shine. “On the other hand,” pointed out one taster, “it needs something,” since Gnarly Head Chardonnay’s flavor isn’t complex enough to stand on its own. Finally we discovered it went well with cantaloupe – the sweetness of the melon toning down the dry bite of the Chardonnay. lt would do well in a sangria or with cheese and crackers.Gnarly Head Chardonnay is a shy wine. It doesn’t blaze through your mouth or try too hard. And for this reason, we decided it’s okay. Wines that go for the gold often end up falling tragically short, sticking you with a weird sourness or a way-too-dry mouthfeel. Simple, inoffensive Gnarly Head Chardonnay may be playing it safe, but sometimes you’re better safe than sorry.
Price: $8.00 – 10.00